Why We Need to Stop Saying ‘People of Color’ When We Mean ‘Black People’

It’s okay to call me Black. And if you feel it isn’t, I still insist that you do.

Joshua Adams
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Published in
4 min readOct 17, 2018

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Kerry James Marshall, “Knowledge and Wonder” (1995). Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

II understand why “people of color” has become a popular phrase. It replaces the outdated term “colored people” with one that is more palatable. It allows for a kind of political solidarity between non-White citizens of the country and the rest of the world. It acknowledges how racism and White supremacy affect people from many groups, not just Black people, and is a platform for their collective shared experiences and concerns.

However, it has its limits — and that’s why we need to stop saying “people of color” when we mostly (and sometimes only) mean “Black people.”

The public use of the term person of color (POC) seems to have become less about solidarity and instead about lessening negative connotations and implicit anti-Black reactions like fear, scorn, disdain, and apathy. In popular discourse, “POC” is often a shorthand for “This issue affects Black people most directly and disproportionately, but other non-White people are affected, too. So we need to include them for the majority to listen and understand we aren’t talking about a solely Black vs. White issue.”

Saying “POC” when we mean “Black people” concedes that there’s a need to describe a marginalized group as “less” Black for people to have empathy for an issue.

When I taught a journalism class at DePaul University, two of my students wrote in a media critique assignment that we should use “African American” because the term “Black” has negative connotations — despite the fact I, their instructor, had referred to myself as “Black” multiple times in class. When it came to writing about police brutality, a couple of students at Salem State used “people of color” (two students actually used the term “colored people”) even though local and national discussions on police brutality almost always involve Black victims.

Saying “POC” when we mean “Black people” concedes that there’s a need to describe a marginalized group as “less” Black for people to have empathy for an issue.

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Joshua Adams
LEVEL
Writer for

Joshua Adams is a writer from Chicago. UVA & USC. Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA